Exhibition at the Galerie Jacques Massol. Paris, April 21, 1966.
Extract from the catalogue by George S. Whittet


After twenty years dedicated to viewing and reviewing international exhibitions for the London magazine “Studio International”, which I directed until very recently, I think that the merit of a painting should not be attributed to skill or to a good-taste regurgitation of the history of twentieth century art. 

It is necessary to see beyond, like a graphologist, to read in paintings the artist’s personality. Because art is, more than ever, the signature of a personality.    

As science advances, the arts fall back. To surrender to electronic calculators and to optical abstraction is to abdicate from the artist’s divine rights. Fortunately, there are still artists who trust the compass of their own magnetism. Noêmia Guerra is among them. From her canvases, there radiates a luminosity that is Painting, this precious substance that has suffered so much scourging from improper inventions.   

As a poet, I feel that in her landscapes and dances, Noêmia Guerra embraces life with a courageous happiness, a happiness that very few of us allow ourselves to enjoy.    

As a critic, I am sure that her message is readable without needing to be “decoded”, as it is painting in its pure state and with universal meaning.  


Exhibition at the Alwin Gallery. London, July 5, 1966
Extract from the catalogue written by G. S. Whittet.


George Whittet and Noêmia Guerra at the Alwin Gallery, 1966

Noêmia Guerra bases her palette on the luxurious vegetation and on the geological structure of her native Brazil.   

The emerald greens, the royal purples, the ember-colored scarlets and the fresh cobalts are the hues that abound in the waving forests and rocky valleys around Guanabara Bay.  

But her paintings are not topographic reflections; the colors and shapes are richly and transparently integrated into the surface.

Each touch of paint, each painting represents a step the artist takes in a journey through a landscape of infinite variety. It is the landscape of light.   



Exhibition at the Alwin Gallery, London, June 5, 1968
Extract from the catalogue.


... the alienation of the artist’s personality from society is the present-day malaise, but for Noêmia Guerra there is no alienation between the opulence of the spectacle of life and her warm, empathetic response, whose communication with the beholder occurs with ease.   



Exhibition at the Alwin Gallery, London, November 5, 1969.
Extract from the catalogue written by G. S. Whittet.


Noêmia Guerra’s latest paintings are “fertilized” by her return to Brazil, to which the artist paid a short visit last year.   

She traveled to Bahia, whose capital, Salvador, is rich in the splendor of its 17th and 18th-century baroque architecture. 

But Noêmia Guerra is not interested in historical relics; her spirit was stimulated by the people, composed almost entirely of mulattos, enlivening their effervescent environment.  

The great polyptych painting “The Salvador Marketplace” is executed in an extraordinary brilliance of color and movement.  

Each of the five sections represents a complete painting, to be appreciated on its own or as a part of the vast composition. Art is the instinct of the human race to give a magic form to feeling

Salvador Marketplace - 1969

200 x 300 cm

Polyptych work in five faces, each 200 x 60 cm



George S. Whittet - 1987


I first met Noêmia Guerra in April 1965, at the Royal College in London.

Noêmia, around her forties, showed herself to be an active woman, judging from her firm attitude.  What most impressed one in her countenance were her eyes, which reflected a vivid intelligence and immediate reaction, both mental and emotional.    

Noêmia and I talked about common Brazilian friends. She also told me she had been living in Paris, in a rented studio in Montparnasse, since 1958.

Noêmia added that she was about to exhibit her work, in the coming month of May, at a small gallery in London’s West End.   

George Whittet and Noêmia Guerra


As I went to Paris quite frequently at the time, in order to visit galleries, I proposed, if she was interested, that she should take me to see her paintings that would be exhibited in London, or at least some of her other paintings.  


The opportunity arose and I was then able to see the artist’s work in her Paris studio, and later her first exhibition in London, in the tiny St. Martin’s Gallery, directed by a Venetian émigré called Victor Zamattio. That exhibition had been organized by Mrs. Raquel Braune, the Cultural Attaché to the Brazilian Embassy, who also organized a welcome vernissage, bringing together art critics and personalities of London society.

In a critique on the exhibition, I wrote: “Noêmia Guerra’s oil paintings show great vitality and spontaneity in their composition, where the “cobalt blues and violets” suggest the sky, through abstract references (this sky I would soon see for myself in Brazil). The compositions, almost abstract, suggest shapes in space by means of color and shade modulations.  

In fact, the essence of her compositions was “the movement” produced by the variations of “shapes-tones”, suggesting “dancing figures” to the spirit of the beholder...   

It was impossible to find, in the animation of such nature, any trace of influence of the short course given by Professor André Lhote, which she took in 1951, when the French professor had been invited to give a course in Pictorial Composition at the Municipal Institute of Beaux Arts in Rio de Janeiro, where Noêmia was studying.


The hard, well-defined contours that Lhote had borrowed from Cézanne, and later from the cubist movement, were of no interest to Noêmia. Color, in all its potentiality, was the predominant factor in Noêmia’s paintings; gradually these color modulations introduced, in her pictorial creation, more associations in the beholder’s understanding and spirit.   

I liked Noêmia Guerra’s paintings so much that I introduced her to Mr. Alwin Davis, a young designer who had worked in Hollywood and had returned to London in order to start a gallery in Mayfair. Mr. Alwin Davis and his partner, Mr. Ronald Dongworth, agreed to include Noêmia Guerra’s paintings in an Exhibition at the Alwin Gallery in the following year.   

1966 was an important year in Noêmia Guerra’s career. Firstly, there was a big individual exhibition at the Jacques Massol gallery, on the rive droite, as well as Noêmia’s participation in the “Three Artists” exhibition at the Alwin Gallery in London, for which I wrote a preface. Jacques Massol invited me to write the introduction to the catalogue for the Paris exhibition. Below, there is an extract from that introduction.  


After meeting Noêmia Guerra, I visited Brazil. In the first place, to see and comment on the São Paulo Biennial, which allowed me to improve my knowledge, not only of Brazilian art, but also of the social and cultural aspects of Noêmia’s country. In particular, the landscapes, the people, the almost surreal contrasts between wealth and poverty, the Afro-European ethnical mixtures, the “silent” – though always present – descendants of the Indian tribes, an indispensable element of the racial mixture of the Brazilian people.    

This experience allowed me to better appreciate the reflections of Noêmia’s past, already evident in her paintings.  

With these impressions fresh in my retina, and the outline of the peaks of the range called Serra dos Órgãos emerging from the red soil, the plane was preparing to land at the Galeão Airport in Rio de Janeiro.  

I realized then that this “Tropical Brazil” was spiritually and chromatically expressed in the tropical images of Noêmia’s landscapes, as we can see, for example, in her penetrating painting “Tijuca”, the urban forest situated in the mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro.    

Tijuca - 1966

Oil on canvas - 81 x 65cm


In Rio, a friend accompanied me in a car and took me to visit several characteristic places, including the Tijuca Forest. During the outing, while I felt immersed in the green atmosphere of the tropical forest, Noêmia’s painting “Tijuca” came to my mind, with the colors of the forest; it was precisely this! A dark green environment forming the backdrop, reddish ochre contrasts of the soil, the rhythm of the ups and downs of the hillside, suggested in the painting by means of light green modulations, like sunbeams shining through leaves and branches. Suddenly a silvery shine appears amidst the somber rocks; it was a waterfall reflecting the blue of the sky.   

Once more, I felt perception as an original, creative act, thanks to which we are simultaneously inserted in an environment and transported to some recollection.    

I went so far as no longer to consider that the merit of a culture rests on a technical skill, but on a rumination of a popular taste connected with the modernism of the twentieth century. Above all, we should consider a painting as a graphologist would, and read in the composition the painter’s character. Art, more than ever, is the signature of a personality.    

To submit to electronic calculators and to optical abstraction is to renounce the artist’s spiritual power. Fortunately, there are still artists who are faithful to the rhythm of their own magnetism. Noêmia Guerra is one of them. Her painting radiates a luminosity that is “Painting”, this precious substance that has recently suffered so much devastation and constrained inventions.   

As a poet, I believe that, in her landscapes and dances, Noêmia Guerra embraces life with courageous joy, to which few surrender themselves. As a critic, I am sure that her message is intelligible, with no need to be decoded. It is Painting in its pure state, with universal meaning. Less than three months after her exhibition in Paris, Noêmia showed eighteen paintings at the Alwin Gallery in London, a total of forty pictures in the two exhibitions.

Durenmatt said, quite rightly, that “the artist cannot accept a law, unless he himself has discovered it”.   


Progressively Noêmia discovered, in her paintings that are so personal and euphoric, that there is no pre-conceived form in which a mental image may boast of its materialization. Each composition is a step taken by the artist in his journey through a landscape of light.

Later, in 1966, I was invited to take part in a jury of European critics at an international exhibition organized by a small municipality in Slovenia, Sloveny-Gradec, in order to award the prizes. I was happy to see that Noêmia Guerra’s luminous painting – “The Cliffs of Algarve” – was far ahead of the other Yugoslav and European paintings.     .


In 1967, Noêmia and her partner, Julian Luna de Prada, spent part of the Winter in Lebanon, where they met the people in the suks and discovered the ancient dignity in the isolated ruins of Baalbek, which introduced new themes to Noêmia’s compositions.

Julian and Noêmia had fun watching the arguments in the suk marketplace: the clothing, shawls, embroidered scarves, like flags shining under the sun rising in the gaps between the narrow alleys.   

During her trip to Lebanon, Noêmia produced numerous drawings and watercolors for later work based on such “studies” after returning to Paris. The trip to Lebanon and the annual stay at Lagos, Algarve, gave Noêmia motifs for the composition of her paintings that would be exhibited at the Alwin Gallery in early 1968.


Rocky Hillsides in Algarve - 1969

Oil on canvas - 120 x 154 cm

Noêmia Guerra’s paintings may have different themes, but we always see a unified approach and treatment.  For Noêmia Guerra, to paint movement is not to describe it by means of shapes, but to create a composition that will give the sensation of movement based on a modulation of tones.   

Thus, in her compositions in which dancers, with grace and vitality, are blended into the background of the painting, a modulation of tones is established making a counterpoint with other dancing image-shapes in the foreground, marking the rhythm, by means of these “value-color” contrasts, by the artist’s decision.   

In the paintings “Rocky Hillsides" and "Algarve Coastline”, the contrast of the “value-colors” creates a new luminosity, with its own light rays. The artist’s alienation in society is a contemporary cultural discomfort; but for Noêmia, there is no alienation between the variety of the spectacle offered by life and the warm, empathetic response she enthusiastically transmits to the beholder. 


During the year 1969, Noêmia had a new Exhibition at the Jacques Massol Gallery in Paris, and at the Alwin Gallery in London; the two exhibitions were simultaneous. They were both noteworthy for the diversity of themes inspired by direct personal contacts made during her trips. In my introduction to the Alwin Gallery exhibition, I stressed the development and maturity of an innate talent, nurtured by experience and continuous efforts.   

In the paintings inspired by the watercolors made on the spot when she visited Brazil, Portugal and Lebanon, the human figure is placed naturally in the landscape. I wrote in “Le Monde” (2), “Noêmia Guerra went back to Bahia (Brazil) in 1968. Salvador, the capital of this state, has splendid 17th and 18th- century baroque architecture, but Noêmia’s imagination received greater stimulus from the people that give life to the sun-stricken environment; the Salvador “Fish Market” is a singular work, as it is a work of art painted with extraordinary audacity in terms of colors and movement. Each of the five panels is a complete painting, which may be admired as such separately, but which even so is part of a pictorial composition. In my view, “the hues” arouse an exaltation, when they create a space and bring forth “the unexpected”.   

In 1973, Noêmia presented her fourth individual exhibition at the Alwin Gallery. I wrote about her in “Pictures on Exhibit” (New York) (3): “The Cliffs of Algarve offer themes to Noêmia Guerra. The variations of the motifs, which are constantly beaten by wind and waves, reveal, thanks to a vibrant painting, a growing strength in the composition and in the perception of tone modulations when they depict the shapes of cliffs under the sun”.

Four years elapsed between Noêmia’s fourth exhibition at the Alwin Gallery and the next, at a gallery also organized by her friend Raquel Braune.

After a very successful vernissage at the Stephen Maltz Gallery (22 Cork St., London) in 1977, I wrote: “I found Noêmia Guerra’s paintings even stronger and more dynamic in the imagery and energy employed. Her main characteristic is exuberance, with a command of one of the most elementary expressions of the life force of any society: dance. Noêmia’s favorite dance is that of Brazil, her country of birth: the samba. She paints men and women dancers, expressing their sensuality, in such a way that the tactile quality of her painting involves the texture and the orientation of her strokes. In some compositions, the brush seems to follow the forms and to caress the pigments, in a choreography that is patently sexual. The dominant tone is red, the red of roses, of sunsets, of ripe fruit, of wine, of blood, symbols of our present world of violence, but kept under control by the expression of a common joy, synthesized by the samba music, which is a reflection of the soul of the Brazilian people”.

In 1979, Noêmia exhibited, at the Marcel Dernhim gallery in Paris, her most recent paintings, which demonstrated a fantastic contrast between stability and movement. In my critique (4) I wrote: “thanks to a constant development towards a more expressive relation of shapes, her “iridescent painting” projects a luminosity from within, of a rare personal characteristic; whether the brilliant facets are reflected in static or dynamic form, as if animated by a breeze, a subtle modulation of light makes all the elements of the composition move as if by refraction”.

In the year 1981 she had another exhibition at the Marcel Dernhim gallery. In the portraits, Noêmia Guerra took an important step forward in relation to the previous two years, achieving a remarkable simplicity. Knowing some of her models in person, and the affinity between them and the artist, I admired the honesty with which she showed them “in two dimensions”, in a generous, audacious and uncommitted summary.

She took part in the Brazil Festival, which was held at the Barbican Centre in London, with three works. In my introduction to the catalogue of this exhibition, I wrote: “Noêmia Guerra is among the best women artists of Brazil”. Two expressive compositions, in stunning colors, translate a warm involvement with the life of the people, be it in lively scenes on the beaches of Algarve or in groups of dancers in Bahia”.

In the most recent years, Noêmia has spent the Spring and Summer in her atelier at Lagos, Algarve, and Autumn and Winter in her atelier in Paris.  

Noêmia has become well known painting portraits, which she considers increasingly stimulating. I shall comment on three of the most impressive, which I was able to see in 1986, when I went to Paris in order to pose for a portrait in Noêmia’s atelier.

The first portrait that attracted my attention was that of a bearded young man, wearing a blue t-shirt with a drawing in white lines on it, representing a boy that was jumping. To my question “why this drawing?” Noêmia answered: “the drawing is by Portinari, a picture of his son, the Maths teacher João Portinari, who was wearing this t-shirt when he came to visit me during one of his trips to Paris. This drawing has become the logo of the “Portinari Project” Institution, founded by his son João in order to preserve the work of Cândido Portinari, an exponent of figurative painting in Brazil, after his death in 1961.

I took delight in the expression of tenacity of the bearded man and the subtlety of the painter Noêmia Guerra, who, though copying Portinari’s drawing printed on the shirt, made it one of her own creations.   

The second portrait impressed me because I recognized in it the model Maria Nunes, now a young mother, posing with her son, an eight-month old baby called Igor. The baby’s pose is the strangest I have ever seen in a Madonna painting – the baby was naked and standing on his mother’s knees; I admired the composition and the chromatic quality, in perfect harmony with the youthfulness of the models.

The third portrait, equally noteworthy, was that of a famous Brazilian opera singer who lives in Paris, Maria d’Apparecida, wearing her characteristic hat. In the background of the composition, but incorporated into its structure, was an imaginary scene, the figure of Feliz Labisse, discreetly modeled, himself  painting a portrait of Maria d’Apparecida. This “pictorial evocation”, as there had been past links between the people portrayed, reveals the imaginative way in which Noêmia treats her composition, which is rare in modern portraits.

For Noêmia Guerra, each composition is a challenge and a stimulus to represent her mental images, and not just a technique.

To call her an expressionist would be an inadequate cliché to describe Noêmia Guerra’s style; in all her paintings, such as those I have seen, one after the other, in the course of twenty-three years, there is rather a marked “subjectivism”, revealing her maturity in approaching the themes, reflecting her inward personality, composed of a generous spirit, fighting difficulties, appreciating the forces of Nature, using all color resources, through a personal experience and acute sensitivity.  

George S. Whittet - 1987


(1) Studio International, May 1965.

(2) Le Monde, October 30, 1969.

(3) Pictures on Exhibit - New York, February 1973.

(4) Art and Artists, February 1973.


Click here for the main Reviews page